Over 70% of older adults in the United States are overweight or obese. To examine the overall health burden of obesity in older adults, the Vitamins and Lifestyle cohort study of western Washington State recruited 73,003 adults aged 50 to 76 who completed a self-administered questionnaire on current height and weight, medical history, and risk factors.
Cross-sectional analysis of body mass index (BMI) and health conditions was performed using data collected in 2000 to 2002. Participants were categorized as normal weight, overweight, obese I, or obese II/III using BMI cut-points. Health conditions included 7 serious diseases, 2 conditions associated with cardiovascular disease risk, 23 medical conditions, and 11 health complaints. Odds ratios (ORs) from logistic regression models were used to examine associations of the four BMI categories with each health condition. Analyses were gender stratified and adjusted for age, education, race/ethnicity, and smoking status.
Among women, 34% were overweight, 16% in the obese I category, and 10% in obese categories II/III. Among men, 49% were overweight, 18% in the obese I category, and 6% in obese categories II/III. Overall, 37 of 41 conditions examined for women and 29 of 41 conditions examined for men were associated with increased levels of BMI (trend p <0.05 for all models). For women and men, respectively, the highest ORs comparing obese II/III to normal weight were diabetes (OR=12.5 and 8.3), knee replacement (OR=11.7 and 6.1), and hypertension (OR=5.4 and 5.6). Obesity also increased the odds of several rare diseases such as pancreatitis (OR=1.9 and 1.5) and health complaints such as chronic fatigue (OR=3.7 and 3.5) and insomnia (OR=3.5 and 3.1).
A broad range of diseases and health complaints are associated with obesity. Clinicians should be aware of the diverse ways in which being overweight or obese may affect the health of their patients when counseling them about weight loss.